As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision:
If you’ve ever come across someone who works with a start up company, cheap chances are, they will tell you how exciting it is. The thrill of building something new, perhaps, with products and services that the marketplace hasn’t seen before, not to mention the fun associated with dreams of hitting it big. It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to accentuate the positive, as they view start-ups as what being in business is all about. “In on the ground floor”, “there from Day 1”, “Microsoft before it was Microsoft”, risk/reward mentality. What could be better than that?
Although working with a start up or, what investors often refer to as “early stage”, company can be an exciting place, it’s important to fully consider what’s involved before taking the leap. Those who haven’t spent much time around the start up world might be surprised to find out what the flip side of opportunity looks like. In this series, we will consider exactly that, so you can make an informed choice, and perhaps, benefit from placing a greater emphasis on developing some of the skills that will serve you well, in advance of when they’re actually needed.
In Part 1, we considered the issue of risk. Let’s move to what just might be the dark side of the start up world; the ever expanding job description.
Why it Matters
Yes, mother told you there would be days like this; that is, days that don’t end due to what seems to be an endless task list of urgent “to do” items. It’s true that early stage companies attract individuals for their particular skill areas, such as engineering, sales, and a host of technical capabilities. All of these areas are essential to developing and moving a young upstart forward. What isn’t often part of the discussion is the long list of “other duties as assigned”, which could include tasks that you might consider to be well below your pay grade. This isn’t quite the same as your corporate job; you know, the one that actually has a description.
The bottom line is that start-ups have limited resources, in terms of people, time, and money. When things need to get done, there isn’t the luxury of delegating lesser tasks to a staff group or putting up the cash to resolve it. In a world of empty bank accounts, the buck stops with those who are around what is often a small table. Running errands, formatting documents, making the coffee, or cleaning up the workspace are necessary, and although it might sound funny, it’s amazing how foreign all of this can be after spending a few years in a large, established company. And in addition to these required, but time wasting tasks, you’ve also got to get your real job done; urgently!
Working for a start up is an adjustment; there’s no two ways about it. And although the need to pitch in and do what’s required might sound petty, it’s surprising just how much of a shift this can be from what might be the norm in the corporate or professional services world.
Here’s how to get started:
- Mindset is key: The secret to doing menial things well is having the right attitude. Check yours to ensure that you’re not looking down on tasks that you might consider as “someone else’s responsibility”, but rather, taking pride in a job well done and a willingness to help. Once you do, you’ll start to notice how many people are not willing to do so.
- Organize where possible: Although you can’t plan everything that will come your way, it’s amazing how much actually can be organized when you make the effort. Look at the responsibilities that you have on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and plan how and when to get the work done. When the unexpected comes along, the majority of what needs to get done won’t get derailed. This approach is one that will serve you well wherever you go and is a tactic of the highly productive.
- Set short term goals: Keeping a keen eye on what needs to be achieved in a day, for example, can be helpful in planning your time and checking in to ensure that your task list stays on track. This approach can also be used to create the “positive pressure” and sense of urgency that deadlines tend to generate, creating windows of time for completing some of the more less than stellar items.
- Plan for setbacks: Start ups tend to have more than their fair share of setbacks, with lots of time being spent at Square One. Recognize this, and take progress for what it is, as there will be days when the only success you’ll be able to point to is those menial tasks. Learn that even these are worth something.
There’s a certain pride that comes from the achievement of what isn’t exactly glamorous; the marathons, the mountain climbs, the cross country treks. In order to survive the start up journey, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the quick sprint to success that entrepreneurs tend to imagine. But, like many of the climbs that have characterized your path thus far, it might just be the time of your life.